This article was published on the Forbes Coaches Council on March 16, 2021.
After a year of forced adaptation to Covid-19, we’re entering a new phase in which leaders are faced with critical decisions:
Do you go back to the office, or continue working from home? If you go back, how do you do so safely? How do you prepare for future potential disruptions? Perhaps the biggest question of all is: Do you want things to simply go back to the way they were before?
Like many, you may be craving a sense of normalcy. Yet you now have a unique opportunity to decide what “normal” is. That opportunity is one of possibilities, but also of huge responsibility.
For all the challenges the pandemic has presented, there is grace to be found in our collective experience. By tapping into that grace, you can better navigate the post-pandemic workplace in a way that both gets results and accounts for your employee’s needs. Here’s how:
1. Be still.
We live in a “Go, go, go!” world, and Covid-19 was a giant speed bump that slowed many of us down. While the forced inactivity could be frustrating, there is power in stillness because it allows us time to cultivate curiosity, empathize with others and discover innovative solutions.
As vaccines are distributed and restrictions lifted, it’s tempting to rush back to the way things were, but the best leaders know that there are times for action and times for stillness. When you’re faced with a choice—like whether to return to the office—instead of jumping to an executive decision and using command-and-control to enforce it, take time to be still and carefully ask, “What is the best decision for my team and the business?”
2. Take inventory of your limiting beliefs.
Covid-19 has tested many of our limiting beliefs, making us rethink things like what work can be accomplished virtually. That ability to question your beliefs is key in navigating the post-pandemic workplace.
In your stillness, take inventory of your limiting beliefs. Awareness of these limiting beliefs will launch you into curiosity. For instance, maybe you think the response to Covid-19 has been an overreaction. You may also believe that working in the office leads to greater productivity than working remotely. Those beliefs may or may not be wrong, but they are not the complete picture.
In acknowledging that your limiting beliefs represent only one point of view, you can get curious and explore other perspectives. For instance, from a lens of business continuity, if you forced everyone back into the office and then someone got sick, you’d have to shut everything down, thereby disrupting the business and potentially making employees feel unsafe. That would not be good for productivity.
3. Shift to a ‘we’ focus.
Top among the lessons of Covid-19 is that our world is far more interconnected than we realize. As a leader, you have an impact not only on business results, but the people you lead and the community in which you do business.
As you cultivate stillness and acknowledge your limiting beliefs, you can begin shifting from an “I” focus to a “we” focus, where you look at situations holistically, considering all the stakeholders involved.
For instance, in deciding whether to return to the office, with a “we” focus, you would consider the varying needs of the people on your team. Maybe some are dealing with increased child care duties or perhaps caring for elderly relatives or are concerned for their own health. A “we” focus allows you to approach your decisions with greater empathy for people’s different experiences.
4. Continue co-creating in innovative ways.
Businesses have had to adapt in many ways in the past year, out of necessity. Moving forward, even if you don’t have to adapt, it’s a valuable skill to nurture.
As a leader, you may feel pressure to have all the answers yourself. You don’t need to do this alone, though. By enlisting your team’s help in finding and implementing solutions, you can co-create in innovative ways.
For instance, one leader I work with did not want to force anyone back into the office, but he needed some people present to run things smoothly. So he asked for volunteers. Many people gladly stepped up. He also enlisted department leaders to figure out how to stagger and delegate the work based on who was in the office.
If you rely on only your own knowledge and skills, you limit the solutions available to you. By co-creating with your team, you open the door to new, innovative solutions.
5. Be compassionately powerful.
We’re often taught that we can be either compassionate or powerful, not both. Yet throughout the pandemic, compassionate leaders have thrived, while businesses that operate without compassion have been called out in the media and by customers.
You don’t need to sacrifice the well-being of your people for the sake of results, or vice versa. You can treat your people with empathy while also holding them accountable.
For instance, the leader who created a volunteer system for returning to the office used it as an opportunity to reset expectations. His team had grown lax on Zoom, with nearly half of them no longer using their cameras. He made it clear that, while everyone could choose whether to come in or not, they needed to be ready for work as if they were in the office, and that included using their cameras.
When you lead with an open heart and a clear agenda like this, you can be both compassionate and powerful.
Becoming A Graceful Leader
Most of us sleepwalk through our lives, playing out the same patterns and falling into old habits. Covid-19 was a pattern interruption in the roteness of our lives. It was jarring and has been painful at times, but in breaking our patterns, it has also given us an opportunity to evolve as leaders.
So, as you’re faced with difficult decisions in the coming months, choose grace. Graceful leadership is a powerful, transformative way of being that will serve as your guide now and far into the future.